2: false hair worn especially by a woman to replace or supplement natural hair
3a (1) : the operation of changing (as by rotation or mapping) one configuration or expression into another in accordance with a mathematical rule; especially : a change of variables or coordinates in which a function of new variables or coordinates is substituted for each original variable or coordinate (2) : the formula that effects a transformationb : function 5ac : an operation that converts (as by insertion, deletion, or permutation) one grammatical string (such as a sentence) into another; also : a formal statement of such an operation
4: genetic modification of a bacterium by incorporation of free DNA from another bacterial cell; also: genetic modification of a cell by the uptake and incorporation of exogenous DNA (1)
This was the project title given to us back in March and it has been one of my most favourite project briefs to date. My initial thoughts were to look at this through nature – birth, growth, death but I soon discarded this idea as being a too obvious interpretation of the project brief. And like with the location element of the Cruel and Tender project, inspiration came to me via my travel plans. I had organised a trip to Paris in May and in reviewing my pictures of my trip to Berlin in 2015, in particular, the ones of Köpernick prison (which is abandoned, but has ‘guided tours’), led me to Google abandoned buildings in Paris. That led me to this article on the Atlas Obscura website and off I went. I narrowed my choices from that article down to 3 places/sites La Petite Ceinture/La Coulée Verte, Le Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale and Goussainville-Vieux-Pays.
My weekend was therefore planned around project execution. Once the various places had been visited and documented as I wanted, I would then enjoy being in Paris, for the sake of being in Paris. I do not believe that I have ever been focused on achieving a photographic objective as I had in terms of this project. This might well have been down to time. In Cambodia and Thailand, I had two weeks (in theory) to take pictures for the project (although one afternoon trip to Wat Thmei for the cruel element) – whereas Paris was 4 days to capture different elements of the project brief, to give me enough material to work from.
Before I move onto how I interpreted this, a language diversion……
the action or fact of abandoning or being abandoned.“she had a feeling of utter abandonment and loneliness”
synonyms: desertion, neglect, stranding; More antonyms: adoption (2)
The surrender, relinquishment, disclaimer, or cession of property or of rights. Voluntary relinquishment of all right, title, claim, and possession, with the intention of not reclaiming it. (3)
Two definitions. You might wonder why I have included both, given the similarities, however, both definitions are linked to the way in which the project “transformation” has been interpreted. When I decided upon photographing abandoned buildings, this led to me thinking about two things. One, the act of abandonment, i.e. just leaving something either to decay, or as in some cases to decay and then be changed into something else and doing so, giving up rights which may then be acquired by others; and, what is or might be the human element behind abandoning things. The first element I captured photographically via La Coulée Verte and La Petite Ceinture in Paris.
My research prior to this had taken me to view the work of photographers such as Gina Soden, Christian Richter, Yves Marchand & Romaine Meffre – helped along the way by Fulya and Rosemary pointing me to interesting articles and venues in relation to photography of abandoned buildings/sites. Mark also generously offered to drive me to an abandoned racetrack. I discovered on the way, the term ‘ruin porn’ and the link between abandonment and decay. Although I intimated that I would read some Edgar Allen Poe for inspiration, I did not get around to it… I’m still in my Haruki Murakami phase, so it takes a lot to dislodge me from his work at the moment (Japanese magical realism).
So armed with some places to visit in Paris, I looked forward to the process of interpreting the project – in particular as it was taking me to places in Paris that I had never visited before, so I was being a true tourist on a voyage of discovery – yes, dramatic I know, but it was very much a case of discovering new parts of a city that I had visited many many times before. This provided a fresh perspective and I am thinking about using this as a template for my next trips to Amsterdam/Rome/Madrid/Brussels/Barcelona etc.
Back to La Coulée Verte and La Petite Ceinture. Here we had two examples of how abandonment can be left to decay/decompose over time and where abandonment can later be used to reinvent. Both are examples of transformation, one in my view is conscious transformation – La Coulée Verte; the other is less-conscious/less overt transformation – La Petite Ceinture. There are clearly parts of La Petite Ceinture which are examples of conscious transformation – sections have been made into small parks, but there are other sections (see the graffitied platforms) where the transformation is not occurring via a desire to update or gentrify, (at least from what I could see) those parts of the track. The graffitied platform while clearly a magnet for Paris’ street artist talent, was not made easily accessible. I had to walk a couple of kilometres to get there… although I could do what these kids who were there did and shimmy down some walls/fences/poles – but I’m just a little too old for that kind of adventure. Moreover, I did not want to have to explain myself to the authorities if I ended up injuring myself, which knowing my luck, would happen.
La Coulée Verte and La Petite Ceinture
However prior to my afternoon trip down the railway line, I set up a time-lapse scene in Paris – one, to kill time before checking into my apartment, and two, to continue practising time lapse photography with Magic Lantern on my EOS M. This exercise showed transformation through people going about their daily lives. If the scene were more dramatic and interesting, I might have considered changing tack and submitting the video as my final project, but I think it is a little too mundane for that…. or am I just missing the point? Can the mundane transformation via time-lapse photography be sufficient? Answers on an e-card please… but seriously, I suspect this reflects my own vanity about my work and wanting it to stand out.
My next project venue was Goussainville-Vieux-Pays just to the north of Paris. The story behind this village is documented here. In short, this village is partially abandoned and this was as a result of a plane crash in the early 1970s. What made this so fascinating (and I did not appreciate this at the time) was the fact that it is only partially abandoned. So you have empty buildings next to occupied ones. It led me to wonder how must it feel to live there. Knowing that you neighbours just upped sticks and left… that while the local shop is boarded up, the local church is fully functional… that you have visitors like me who are curious not because your village might be seen as being picturesque (given its proximity to Paris), but that we’re effectively gawking at the aftermath of tragedy and the loss of human life, with the consequent emotional effects this had on the whole village. That has particular resonance post the Grenfell Tower fire and how I felt when I went to visit that scene – but that is a different conversation for a different day.
The effect of the crash had such an effect on the village population, that a large number of them just left….. While I was trying not to gawk and invade, I undertook another time lapse video – however, my patience was a little thin as I was hungry and also wanted to get to my next venue while the available light was still good.
Now, Goussainville-Vieux-Pays feeds into the second element of abandonment that I described above – what is or might be the human element behind abandoning things. In this village, I most likely came across two types of abandoned items (1) things that were left behind in the original evacuation, and (2) items dumped at these sites. In both cases, it did make me think about the stories behind the items. Who did they belong to; if they were toys were they loved and were they being missed; who used to sit on the sofa and what did they think about; did they think at all?
Moving around through the debris looking for items to photograph, making choices about what ‘looked interesting’ or would make a ‘good photograph’. This subjective choice arguably is also an element of transformation – taking a subject/object and choosing to photograph it in such a way that can enhance or reduce its context – taking it from something to nothing, or vice versa. Through post-production adding an additional element of transformation – all the pictures were taken in colour and I decided that their impact would be heightened/enhanced/emphasised by converting them to black and white. Could we achieve the project brief simply by taking pictures of anything, taking them out of, or placing them into a new context and then maybe further transforming them in post production? Hmm, why not. Maybe I should have thought about this earlier….
Back to the script and off to Le Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale in the Bois des Vincennes, to see the remnants of the exposition of the 1920s – colonial France and her subjects. Here the elements of abandonment and transformation were of a different type to Goussainville – more socio-political and bound up in history. Moreover, the viewing of the ‘abandonment’ appears to be encouraged – by that I mean that where it poses a danger to the public it is sectioned off, but the sculpture, for example, has been left so that you can walk past and touch it and get up close. The buildings, however, you have to view from a short distance. It has the feeling that the authorities are content with the slow but managed decay and at the same time it gives people something to look at and talk about. It was a great contrast to Goussainville-Vieux-Pays for that reason alone.
Le Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale
On a slightly different tack but still, within the transformation brief, my last day in Paris was spent making a sculpture. I really wish that I had set up the time lapse for this, but that might have been problematic in the studio space and with other students present. But I went from lumps of clay to a bust in 3 hours and with some assistance from my tutor, Alexandre Haulet – I am hoping that it does not explode in the kiln when fired and fingers crossed that it will be shipped to be me in the near future. This was a hands-on transformation experience, which was educational and fun.
Feel and create – Airbnb experience with Alexandre Haulet
Before we get to the final selection of pictures, I again took travel as an inspiration to execute the project brief in one day, or more correctly one photo shoot, at Belval in Luxembourg. This was challenging but also had an element of freedom. I was not constrained by the need to produce anything at all. I set parameters of using my 20mm prime lens and in most cases shooting with the Lee Big or Little Stopper (and on a few occasions both of them). I also decided early on, not to correct the wide angle distortion that would occur with some converging verticals, but to leave them in as an additional element of visual transformation. They may well jar, but that is partly the objective, to force you to see it in an unconventional way. I chose a mixture of colour and black and white for this mini-project. Something I did not appreciate at the time, but which came across in the pictures are the fact that leading lines are quite strong – this might be due to the fact that architecture was the basis – subject and object.
The final selection – Project evaluation:
The final selection of pictures are taken from both Goussainville-Vieux-Pays and Le Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale. I open with the first building you see when you enter the village from the train station end (Goussainville RER is about a 15 min walk away). Originally, I was not going to include this picture as it did not seem to work for me. However, when I converted it to black and white it took on a different feel, which made me think that it should be included and be the opening picture for the project as it is the opening building for the village. I think the conversion made it more gritty which is in keeping with the other pictures chosen.
The remaining pictures are from Goussainville apart from the last two. Of those, three are primarily focused on single items, a sofa, a child’s toy, a video cassette. By choosing those them I was seeking to understand and get the viewer to ask: who had left them? and why (irrespective of when the were left)? Were the toys thrown away because they were broken and/or no longer loved? Who watched the western film, was he their movie idol, their movie boyfriend/husband? Who sat on the sofa and what did they think about, if anything? The last picture from the Goussainville set is to provide an overarching context – is this what a street might look like when a village is partially abandoned?
The last two pictures are from Le Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale. The building with the broken glass is your atypical abandoned building – but there is something quite raw about it. While it might seem that the sculpture is somewhat out of place with the other pictures, I am drawn to including it in the group. It is an item that has been discarded much in the same way as the fluffy toy or the video cassette.
Health and safety sidebar – this was obviously much more of an issue in Goussainville and I covered it that in the post.
For the physical prints, I have gone for 12″x 8″ PermaJet Titanium Lustre. From the data sheet “Titanium Lustre has a beautiful pronounced textured finish on a heavyweight 280gsm base. Incredible detail and clarity is achievable delivering stunning high-resolution visual impact and making your images just jump off the paper with the dramatic metallic appearance”. I’m looking forward to seeing what this metallic appearance can do – I wanted to move away from the Hannemulhe paper as I have used this for a number of project submissions and I already know what to expect from that paper. This will be a surprise and hopefully a good one.
I am very happy with the body of work produced over the course of this project, from the time lapse in Paris, the Airbnb experience (Feel and Create) to the mini-project in Belval. I also realise that setting myself a time sensitive deadline allowed me to focus much more than if I did not have to create a small body of work in that timeframe. I approached each venue with a purpose: to leave with pictures that could form part of the final project and moreover, that some of them had to feature in the final project. I am also convinced that converting them to black and white brought added atmosphere and feeling that colour would strip away. With only two colours to focus on and apart from tonality and contrast, you are forced to look at what the picture is telling you… well at least that is what I want it to achieve. That is not to say that you cannot photograph abandoned buildings only in black and white…. depending on what you are trying to achieve, you can choose between the two or mix it up and choose both. The work of Gina Soden et al show that colour has a role to play… it just did not in this iteration of this project.
The prints arrived today and I really like paper they have been printed on. It works well with them being in black and white and for some of the pictures have an almost negative feel to them. Definitely a good choice!
Assignment criteria: 1-5